Janet Mock is one of the largest names in transgender activism today. When you Google her, the first examples to appear are ones describing her popular accomplishments. Her recent New York Times bestselling autobiography, Redefining Realness, is one example. Another is her being listed as part of various lists of influential people in oppressed communities, such as the OUT 100 and Trans 100. But these results do not give you the full picture of Mock: a fierce and determined activist with a lot of personability and patience.
Mock was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to a black father and native Hawaiian mother. She began her transition in high school and funded her medical transition by being a sex worker in her teens. She has a Bachelor in Fashion Merchandising and a Masters in Journalism. Growing up, she was assigned male and addressed as such, but started to explore her gender identity further at 12, despite her father’s strict gender policing. Since then, she has grown into a passionate activist for the black, transgender, and women movements. Mock is the host of So POPular! -- a weekly MSNBC digital series about modern culture, and is the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans* women. TIME called Mock “one of the 12 new faces of black leadership” and “one of the most influential people on the Internet”, while Fast Company named her one of 2015’s “most creative people in business”. Mock is also an editor for Marie Claire magazine and a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. But what is there to Mock besides her accomplishments?
As a trans* writer, watching Janet Mock is both an amazing and frustrating experience for me personally. When Mock is interviewed by cisgender hosts who are not careful with the language they use surrounding her past, it is personally uncomfortable for me to witness. As Laverne Cox, another black transgender woman activist, said: “Calling a trans woman a man is an act of violence.” One example of this insensitivity is a segment with Piers Morgan, in which he repeatedly gave his superficial understanding of what being transgender feels like, instead of respectfully learning about her life, which was his job.
The kind of blatant and tactless dissection and sensationalization of trans* people’s bodies in the media is one that has been a focal point of Mock’s movement. For instance, the Piers Morgan segment was captioned by, “Was a boy until 18” (the age Mock underwent sex reassignment surgery) and “How would you feel if the woman you are dating was formerly a man?” Mock has written countless critiques of this kind of wording, explaining that these statements are invasive and assumptive, pointing toward Mock’s gender like an accusation and an entertainment point. A more respectful way to phrase these subtitles would be, “Janet Mock: Transgender Activist and Writer.” This is the difference between treating a guest like a professional instead of a sideshow. Yet Janet Mock was criticized and attacked for her “immature” reaction, assuming that Mock would be grateful to even get the chance to speak on a major television outlet. Despite it all, she has remained an unbattered and fearless advocate for her cause.
One of the most impressive aspects of Mock’s activism is her consistent acknowledge of privilege, even her own. In her book Redefining Realness, she says: “I have been held up consistently as a token, as the “right” kind of trans woman (educated, able-bodied, attractive, articulate, heteronormative). It promotes the delusion that because I “made it”, that level of success if easily accessible to all young trans women. Let’s be clear: It is not.” This activism is one that not only inspires but engages all people on the issue of trans* rights and respect, and empowers trans* youth, especially young women. By maintaining both a self righteous air in order to gain respect and a selfless love for her community, Janet Mock has successfully built a dynasty of empowered youth and challenged allies in her wake. I am here for it.
Hess, Amanda. "Piers Morgan’s Interview with Janet Mock Was Not a Failure of Sensitivity. It Was a Failure of Reporting." Slate.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016 http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/02/07/_piers_morgan_s_janet_mock_interview_why_journalists_get_coverage_of_the.html
"Janet Mock Quotes." Janet Mock Quotes (Author of Redefining Realness). N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5388148.Janet_Mock
"About." Janet Mock. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. http://janetmock.com/bio/
March 10, 1983: Janet Mock is born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
2001: Mock undergoes sex reassignment surgery in Thailand at 18.
2006: Before this date, Mock graduates the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Merchandising, and in 2006, graduates NYU with a Master of Arts in Journalism.
2011: Janet Mock comes out as publicly transgender in a problematic Marie Claire article written by Kierna Mayo from Mock’s point of view. Becomes an editor at Marie Claire despite her critique of the piece. Submits a video for the It Gets Better project. Mock is featured in a 2011 documentary called Dressed.
2012: Mock’s first book, Redefining Realness, is signed by Atria Books. Mock starts a Twitter hashtag (#GirlsLikeUs) to empower transgender women. Mock gives the Lavender Commencement keynote speech honoring LGBT students at the University of Southern California. Mock serves as co-chair, nominee and presenter at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards.:
November 2012: Mock receives her Sylvia Rivera Activist Award from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
June 27, 2013: Janet Mock is featured in an LGBT community called The OUT List. Mock joins the board of directors of the Arcus Foundation.
February, 2014: Redefining Realness is released.
2014: Mock leaves job at People.com and hosts Take Part Live, So POPular! (her own weekly digital series), the Global Citizen Festival, guest hosts the Melissa Harris-Perry show, covers the White House Correspondents Dinner’s red carpet for Shift, and is a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. Featured on the fifth anniversary cover of CANDY magazine.
Following the conviction of Monica Jones, a trans woman of color, Mock joins a campaign against a law in Pheonix that targets Black and Latina transgender women (“manifesting prostitution”).
2015: Mock delivers the commencement address for Pitzer College. In April, Mock makes a guest appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday for a segment called Becoming Your Most Authentic Self. In September, she makes another appearance where she discusses Embracing the Otherness.
March 2016: Mock cancels a speech at Brown University after students protested the invitation by Hillel, a Jewish organization.